Obesity has gone prime time. We Find evidence of
its presence where ever we look: in every neighborhood, every
mall, every school and every workplace. Hardly a day goes by
without the news reporting on some aspect of the looming obesity crisis. However, the epidemic is not confined to just the wealthy developed world. Even desperately poor countries such as Nigeria and Uganda are wrestling with the dilemma of
obesity. China, which was once one of the world’s leanest countries,
is not immune. In fact, it has one of the fastest-growing
obesity rates in the world and one quarter of its urban youth is
presently overweight. It is projected that by 2015, 200 million
Chinese will be not just obese, but morbidly obese.
The looming obesity epidemic is sending chills through the
global community. Worldwide, more than 1.3 billion people are
overweight, whereas only 800 million are underweight—and
these statistics are diverging rapidly.
The problem of expanding waistlines is more than merely
a vanity concern. There are serious health consequences from
sporting that beer belly. Being overweight can radically change
the course of a person’s life. Fat is toxic and potentially lethal. Just
carrying as few as an extra 4.5 kilos (10 pounds), over your ideal
weight is considered a serious risk factor for heart disease, diabetes,
high blood pressure, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, liver
disease, hormonal imbalances depression and cancer. In fact, at
least 30 different diseases are related to being overweight.
So, what’s going on here? If people were to follow the advice
offered by medical professional, public health officials and
the experts from the weight loss industry, the problem should
be easily solved. Their call to action basically involves turning
your back on all those sugary, high carbohydrate, processed,
junk foods and switch to a low calorie diet fortified by plenty of
exercise. They say it all boils down to a very simple equation:
take in fewer calories and burn more.
Sounds logical. The only problem is that this decades old
approach is a dismal failure. For the vast majority of people, it
doesn’t work. In fact, long-term success for attaining permanent
weight loss is only achieved by a mere 2–5 percent of those
very determined and lucky dieters.
A definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and
over again and expecting a different outcome. It certainly appears
that the traditional approach to winning the battle of the
bulge does indeed, seem insane.
If there are answers and successful strategies to stem the
tide of this serious health epidemic, they will need to be sought
It’s time to discover some of the missing pieces of the weight loss puzzle.
Secrets of the Brain-Belly Connection
Do you value your brainpower? Certainly the one faculty that
everyone wants to hold onto throughout a life’s lifetime is a
fully functioning, intact brain. Unfortunately belly fat can deliver
a serious blow to your aspirations.
Overwhelming evidence now reveals that your expanding
waistline will put a serious crimp on your brain size as well as
Researchers set out to discover if being overweight posed
a danger to the brain. They scanned the brains of 94 people
over the age of 70. They were looking to see the differences
in the brains of people who were of normal weight (BMI under
25), overweight (BMI 25–30), and obese (BMI over 30).
(BMI stands for body mass index, an approximation of body
fat based on height and weight.)
Their results were quit shocking. Overweight people have
4 percent less brain tissue than people of normal weight. And,
for obese people, the findings were even worse. They had 8
percent less brain tissue than people of normal weight.
The study not only showed that carrying extra weight
degenerated the brain but it also accelerated its aging. Researcher
Paul Thompson shared his observation, “The brains
of overweight people looked eight years older than the brains
of those who were lean, and 16 years older in obese people.
Type 2 diabetes, which is common in the overweight, is known
to accelerate the aging of the brain and the onset of dementia.
But the relationship between brain size and weight still stood
when the researchers accounted for this, suggesting it is the
fat itself that is causing the problem. It is thought that high levels
of fat raise the odds of the arteries clogging up, cutting the
flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. This could cause brain
cells to die and the organ to shrink.” The high demands put on
these brain areas may make them more sensitive to changes
in oxygen levels.
Another study used magnetic resonance imaging to compare
the brains of 44 obese individuals with those of 19 lean
people of similar age and background. The obese individuals
had more water in the amygdale—a part of the brain involved
in eating behavior. It also showed smaller orbitofrontal cortices
in obese individuals, important for impulse control and
also involved in eating behavior. These findings strengthen the
“slippery slope” theory of obesity. The neural changes that occur
when you are overweight, affects the parts of your brain
that influence and control so many behaviors necessary to
make healthy choices.
Further studies indicate that those with the most belly fat
(visceral fat mass) suffer the greatest mental declines over
time—and that central or abdominal obesity, in particular, accounts
for more than a three-fold increase in dementia risk.
What’s even more worrying is that increased belly fat is
linked to decreases in total brain volume, independent of BMI.
This can cause changes in another area of the brain, called
the hippocampus, which is responsible for long-term memory,
spatial memory and navigation. Finally, excess belly fat also
appears to contribute to lesions in the brain’s white matter,
especially in diabetic patients—linking it not just to memory
loss, but also to increased risk of stroke.
Obesity is also causes changes to the immune system, which
are fanning the flames of inflammation throughout the body. This
increased inflammation can impact the brain and lead to a vicious
cycle of gaining more and more weight: obesity leads to inflammation,
which damages certain parts of the brain, which in turn
leads to more uncontrolled eating and more obesity.
There are many areas of the brain that are affected by being overweight.
- Frontal and temporal lobes—critical for planning, memory and impulse control
- Anterior cingulate gyrus—responsible for attention and executive functions
- Hippocampus—important for long-term memory, spatial memory and navigation
- Basal ganglia—essential for proper movement and coordination
Here is the catch-22. Those extra kilos impair brain function
and compromise the particular areas of brain that impact a
person’s ability to have a keen memory, control impulses and
follow through on any kind of planning. It, therefore, becomes
more difficult to successfully commit to any kind of program,
especially a weight loss program. Since the impulse control
part of the brain is affected, controlling those urges to help
yourself to another donut or a second helping of mashed potatoes
is a Herculean effort and generally doomed to fail.
Vitamin D —A Key to a Healthy Metabolism
There is one really important nutritional player when it comes
to our health. This superstar nutrient is the sunshine hormone,
vitamin D. (Vitamin D is really a steroid hormone rather than
an actual vitamin.)
Vitamin D truly deserves the title of superstar. Each year,
vitamin D research discovers additional health benefits conferred
by this sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D receptors are found
throughout the body including the brain. Optimal levels are
absolutely necessary to insure healthy bones, healthy arteries,
a robust immune system, balanced moods, optimal cognitive
function, protection from hypertension, allergies, multiple
sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune conditions, and
fertility and PMS. Most significantly, vitamin D has been proven
to be protective against 13 different kinds of cancer.
Optimal Levels of Vitamin D Are Critical for Health
Here are some basic facts you need to know about vitamin D.
It is a fat-soluble steroid hormone that is both made by the
body and from our diet. In order for the body to produce vitamin
D (cholecalciferol), the skin must be exposed to ultraviolet
light, primarily from the sun. Vitamin D is further metabolized
in the liver and kidneys to create the fully active form of vitamin
D. Thus variations in sun exposure due to latitude, season,
time of day, sunscreen use, skin pigmentation, and age will
determine how much vitamin D the body makes.
Although it is known that vitamin D play a vital role for
the well-being of infants, children, adults and the elderly, we
presently have a global pandemic of chronically low vitamin D
levels. It’s estimated that 85 percent of the American public are
deficient, and as much as 95 percent of all its senior citizens.
Vitamin D deficiencies are also widespread throughout the UK,
with 86 percent of the population deficient in the winter and 57
percent in the summer.
Even though Australia’s is described as “sun burnt” country
and is one of the sunniest countries in the world, a surprising
number of its citizens are severely lacking in vitamin D.
A recent report stated that as many as 1 in 3 Australians may
have low vitamin D levels.
For all those on a weight loss quest, vitamin D is
one of those missing pieces you have been searching for.
There is overwhelming evidence that confirms the importance
of keeping your vitamin D levels up to get your extra
kilos down. Not only does it help achieve weight loss,
it also improves other risk factors such as insulin resistance,
metabolic syndrome and blood sugar imbalances.
If you are feeling hungry all the time no matter how
much you eat, you might want to have your vitamin D levels
checked. What drives insatiable hunger is the relationship
between low vitamin D levels and a hormone called
leptin. Leptin is a messenger molecule made in fat cells
that communicates to the hypothalamus, letting it know
how much fat is stored in the body. It is the hormone that
communicates that you are full.
Low vitamin D levels interfere with the effectiveness
of leptin. Researchers at Aberdeen University, Scotland
found that obese people produced 10 per cent less vitamin
D than people of average weight. The study discovered
that low levels of the vitamin in blood interfered
with the function of leptin, which tells the brain when the
stomach is full. The study also found that excess body fat
absorbs vitamin D, stopping it from entering the bloodstream.
Dr Helen MacDonald, of Aberdeen University’s
department of medicine and therapeutics, said: “Obese
people had less vitamin D and the link between obesity
and vitamin D deficiency was statistically significant.”
Overweight people, shirking the sun or not taking
adequate vitamin D supplementation thwart their dieting
efforts in another way. Low vitamin D levels have been
shown to increases fat storage. A 2009 Canadian study
found that weight and body fat were significantly lower in
women with normal vitamin D levels than women with
It seems that fat people may be less able to convert
vitamin D into its hormonally active form. A Norway study
found that the more participants weighed, the lower their
vitamin D levels tended to be. The researcher, Zoya Lagunova,
MD, believes that obesity is associated with lower
vitamin D levels since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin.
“Much of the vitamin D produced in the skin or ingested
is distributed in fat tissue, so obese people may take in
as much vitamin D from the sun, food, or supplements
as people who are not obese, but their [blood] levels will
tend to be lower. Obese people may need more vitamin D
to end up with the same levels as a person whose weight
How much less vitamin does an overweight person
make? As it turns out, increased fatty cells can decrease the
ability to make vitamin D by a factor of 4. That means that if
you are carry extra weight, you may make only one quarter
the amount of vitamin D compared to a leaner person.
Vitamin D is also an important factor in diabetes.
Low levels of vitamin D has been linked to an increased
risk of developing type 2 diabetes. After following more
than 5,000 people for five years, an Australian research
team found that those with lower than average vitamin
D levels had a 57 percent increased risk of developing
diabetes, compared to those within the recommended
Low levels of vitamin D are also known to nearly double
the risk of cardiovascular disease if you already have
diabetes. Diabetics, who are deficient in vitamin D and
cannot process cholesterol normally, tend to have it build
up in their blood vessels, hence increasing the risk of
heart attack and stroke.
Vitamin D also helps keep blood sugar levels under
control. In type 2 diabetes the body can’t use insulin it
produces efficiently to control blood sugar levels. Vitamin
D plays a role by increasing the release of insulin. In one
study, researchers evaluated the vitamin D levels and the
chance of developing unbalanced blood sugar metabolism.
In this study, subjects were evaluated for serum vitamin
D levels and followed for 7 years to determine the
effects on blood sugar metabolism. The study showed
that the subjects with the highest vitamin D levels had a
40 percent increase in supporting optimal future blood
If you want to lose weight and keep it off, it is critical
to check your vitamin D levels. The higher your vitamin
D levels the higher your leptin levels and the more your
blood sugar will remain balanced. Vitamin D helps your
body respond to the correct metabolic messages. High
vitamin D levels increase your ability to lose weight and
losing weight will increase your vitamin D levels. All of
which will reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome, insulin
resistance, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, not to
mention most chronic illnesses.
While it is important for most people to take vitamin
D supplementation, especially the overweight,
children and elderly, it is critically important to check
your vitamin D levels. Taking a vitamin D supplement
may not get you into optimal range, which
is where you want to be. Its optimal blood vitamin
D levels that count. The proper blood test is called
25-hydroxyvitamin D (25-OH), which is included in the
basic blood workup. In Australia optimal levels should be
150–200 nmol/L. In the U.S., optimal levels should be between
70–100 ng/mL. Do not settle for less than optimal
levels if your goal is the best health possible.